Self-talk and Performance

It’s fascinating to listen what runners tell themselves. “I’m not a hill runner.” “I hate the heat.” “I always run bad in this weather.” “I can’t go out that fast.” “I’m not good at this distance.” And from triathletes of course we hear the likes of “I’ll never be a strong runner/cyclist/swimmer.”

This is called self-talk. We do it all the time. (My mind has so much chatter going on I argue with myself and lose!) The real question is whether your self-talk is constructive and performance enhancing or destructive and performance undermining.

According to cognitive psychology – thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to behaviors. Self-talk evidences our thoughts. This is basically how someone who labels (self-talk) himself/herself as a “choker” manifests it in the behaviors on the field of competition. So, what you tell yourself regularly is what will guide your behavior, your efforts, your tenacity, your focus.

I love the quote: “Argue for your limitations and they are yours.” This is what our self-talk does. It does not mean the reverse, that if you have constructive self-talk you will somehow be “super” runner and do things beyond your capabilities. It does mean that you will be working to optimize your efforts and performances to get as close to your 100% as possible!

Here are some specific areas that self-talk can be helpful.

Skill Acquisition – When learning pacing and relaxing while at goal pace use a phrase like “smooth and easy” or “controlled fast”.

Changing Bad Habits – If you have the habit of going out too fast use “stay on pace” or “controlled” or “let them go, I’m on my pace.”

Attention Control –  If you have a habit of mind-wandering or thinking about the outcome of your event, or the hill that is looming try – “stay her and now” or “maintain form” or “breathe and relax” or “maintain pace”. It keeps you focused on the present – which is the only thing you can control!

Creating Mood or Affect – If you have trouble maintaining your excitation at events you can use statements to either elevate your mood or relax you and decrease nervousness. “Settle”, “relax”, “let go”, “stay in control” are examples to settle you down. “Go”, “power”, “now”, “do it”, fast”, “quick” are examples of self-talk statements said with emphasis that can trigger an increase in excitement.

Effort – Cue words and phrases can be your trigger to step it up a notch and get back into the competition.  Examples are “go for it”, “go now”, “now’s the time”, “get after him/her” and my all time favorite – “nobody, but NOBODY beats me in the last mile!” (If you don’t believe me – try me some day!)

Self-efficacy – This is the expectation of succeeding at a specific task. It’s a specific type of self-confidence. Though this is influenced by a number of sources, our self-talk can support or undermine our belief in our capabilities. Some statements are: “I’ve done this before I can do it again.” “I’m ready to do this.” “My training has prepared me to succeed – run this time – run this race.”

Next up I’ll share ways to get in touch with your self-talk and some techniques to fortify yourself.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to Self-talk and Performance

  1. TrackMom says:


    I love your site.Great information.I am going to place it on my fav list and link it on my blog.Keep up the great work!
    See me at ; )

  2. Pingback: Identfying Your Self-Talk « The Running World According to Dean

  3. Pingback: Identfying Your Self-Talk « Everything Mental Toughness

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